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April 15, 2014 10:44 AM The Phony Civil War Within the Antichoice Movement

By Ed Kilgore

To hear the rhetoric surrounding some intramural fights within the antichoice movement, there is a deep division of “principle” between those who favor uncompromising early-term abortion bans or who refuse to accept rape/incest exceptions, and “incrementalists” who support whatever anti-abortion measures the political market or the judiciary in a given time or place can sustain. The recent decertification of Georgia Right to Life (an “uncompromising” organization that rejects exceptions to a hypothetical ban) by the National Right to Life Committee, and rifts in Kansas and Ohio over “fetal heartbeat” bills that would ban first-trimester abortions, are examples; so, too, is the backlash against Colorado GOP Senate candidate Rep. Cory Gardner for his flip-flop on “personhood” initiatives that would theoretically ban both early abortions and the use of certain contraceptives.

For purposes of clarity, it’s important to understand that these battles represent a phony civil war when it comes to ultimate goals. As Amelia Thomson-Deveaux explains at the Prospect today, antichoice “incrementalists” don’t oppose more extreme legislation because they cherish limited reproductive rights, but because they want to offer federal courts the opportunity to bend but not break the Roe v. Wade precedent. It is generally assumed the U.S. Supreme Court is a Justice short of a conservative majority that might directly overturn Roe. So that great-gettin-up-morning for antichoicers must await a SCOTUS appointment or two from President Huckabee or Paul or Cruz or Christie or Walker or Bush 45 or Rubio or Perry or whoever. In the meantime, “incrementalists” support bans that gnaw away at reproductive rights, mostly through the “supply-side strategy” of harassing providers into closing down, but also through “religious liberty” exceptions that erode legal compliance with reproductive rights, and late-term bans that undermine the general principle of a right to choose.

So fights between “moderate” and “extreme” antichoicers reflect a classic disagreement over strategy, tactics, timing and rhetoric—like those among movement conservatives on a wide range of issues. But almost without exception, the contending parties look forward together with great anticipation to the day when abortion, defined very broadly, is illegal entirely. Let’s don’t forget that for a moment.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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